I very excited to introduce Hannah Christenson, a freelance illustrator based in Arizona, and a graduate of the Brigham Young University - Idaho in 2011. Hannah has worked with Tor.com, Fantasy Flight Games, and Galileo Games among others. Her favorite jobs have always been fantasy related, and she has been generous enough to talk to us today about world building, strong heroines and heroes, and of course, her piece in the current Rolemodels: The Battle for Vyk'Tornaahl exhibition!
Can you tell us a little bit about your Rolemodels persona? What elements of their personality and class traits are the most reflective of yourself?
I chose a warrior with lots of armor and a ridiculously huge shield. I'm a very quiet person who probably puts up a lot of armor around myself. My personality isn't very sneaky or graceful like I imagine other classes to be. I can see my imperfect, lumbering self in the warrior class. I'm sure I was influenced at least in some way by all the cool fantasy stories and fairy tales that I've ever read, but perhaps what I was thinking of the most was "What is the opposite of a bikini-clad warrior in the snow?" and I kind of went with that and had some fun. There is a time and a place for bikinis, but it wasn't this time or place!
You mention going on many great, yet sometimes perilous adventures while you were growing up. Do still find your self taking on risky yet exciting challenges, especially when it comes to your art?
I grew up in the country in south Texas where there were rattlesnakes and alligators literally in my back yard. When I went outside to play my mom would tell me to watch out for snakes instead of to watch out for cars. It was great and it taught me to be cautious and prepared, but also to take risks if you want to go play. I suppose you could say that's helped me in the art world with doing my best and not being afraid to email that art director I've always dreamed of working with.
When it comes to world building and creating environments and persons, what resources do you tend to look to? How much research goes into designing your characters and building scenery? What are some places, books, or websites that you go to for a jump start?
I love going to the used book store and finding all kinds of books on armor and the stuff that goes under the armor, weapons, photography of environments, various anatomy books, animal books. Of course you can use the internet to research all these cool things, but books are always around to inspire you later on as well. I like to go to Parka Blogs for art book reviews.
Can you tell us about your process? How do you go about making decisions on creating such expressive figures within consistently dynamic compositions? How do you make sure that each element is convincing and suitable for the stories that you try to tell?
My process probably doesn't differ from that of any other artist in that I start with a thumbnail and go from there. It's important to thumbnail and get your good and bad ideas out. Personally, if I myself were to be convinced of the believability of a character in any story, I would look at the environment first and see how the environment has shaped the character. What is the environment? Does the character dress appropriately? Live in an appropriate house? Have the items that one would need in order to live in that environment? What's her job? Does she dress and have the right equipment for that job? It's easy to fall down the details rabbit hole, but it's important to at least consider those basics.
Much of your work seems to deal with themes of high fantasy and powerful female characters. Is there a reason why these subject matters take such a significant role in your work?
I try to make what I want to see more of. There weren't a ton of female role models for me in fantasy when I was a kid. My local library was very small and they would only have one copy of a particular book (I had to wait FOREVER to read Harry Potter) so sometimes I'd imagine that all the good books were out. I want to see more ladies in lead roles, powerful roles, roles where they're given names and pasts. They don't all have to be armor-clad warriors either. I just want to see female characters that are written and depicted as people.
When it comes to obstacles such as art block or a lack of motivation, how do you conquer them?
Just keep working. Work on your own stuff, that secret project you dream about. Personal projects are incredibly important. They help you in so many ways. They help you improve your abilities, it's cathartic, you're producing something you love and you're passionate about. You can put it in your portfolio to get more work that you love. Cory Godbey wrote a great post about personal work, go read it! My own personal project that I've been tinkering on for a long time has helped me get jobs, break down art block, and helped me find bits of myself that I'd hidden away.
What are some things that you arm yourself with before jumping into new projects? How do you psych yourself up when embarking on a new illustration, or maybe there are some artistic tools or supplies you simply cannot work without?
I prefer to work digitally, so it'd be pretty hard to work without my Wacom 4 and some version of Photoshop. One thing that helps me start and finish a new illustration is a checklist. Even a very small one! My current checklist says things like gather reference, paint owl face, block in colors. It helps me stay on task and not get distracted by the shiny internet.
Tell us a little bit about your own role models; who are your artistic influences or even people who simply inspire you to keep creating?
Bear with me, this is cheesy, but my husband is my biggest supporter. When I create something I feel is incredibly stupid, I don't meet my goals, or I fail at something I had secret high hopes for he's there to push me back up above the waves. He does a good job at helping me keep my chin up. As far as artistic influences, there are so many amazing, truly inspiring artists out there that set such a wonderful example of hard work, persistence, and determination. Of course their individual work is amazing, but their sheer willpower is inspiring.
Can you tell us about any new projects that you are currently working on, or are excited to start working on?
Outside of freelancing I'm currently working on my own secret project after hours. I can't share a ton about it but I'm excited about it. It involves a lady, some magic, some adventures and dog all in a webcomic format!
Thank you so much Hannah!
To see more of her work, take a peek at her website as well as her blog! Her piece is also available to purchase in the Light Grey Art Lab Shop!